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Cowboys hot topic: What’s the point in even trying?

Even if Dallas makes the playoffs, they will soon face the Saints or the Rams, and there’s no hope. So making the postseason must be a wasted effort, right?

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Rams
This is the wave of the future in the NFL.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It was an unprecedented NFL spectacle. On Monday Night Football, the Los Angeles Rams defeated the Kansas City Chiefs by the amazing and ridiculous score of 54-51. It was the first time in league history that a team scored over half a hundred points and still lost. Many are excited that this may have been a preview of the coming Super Bowl, given that both teams still have the best records in their respective conferences. And if there is a team likely to push one of them out, it is the New Orleans Saints, who might just be better than either of them and only trail the Rams by half a game.

Football fans were thrilled to watch that game - except when they look ahead at what it means. For Dallas Cowboys fans like us, it comes with a sobering question. Why even worry about making the playoffs, because they will hit one of those teams at some point, and clearly the Cowboys have no hope of staying on the field, right?

Well, Jerry Jones doesn’t think so.

A lot of people just roll their eyes when the Cowboys’ owner and GM starts giving his football opinions. But here’s the thing: He has a point. If you don’t believe me, look at what Geoff Schwartz, an NFL offensive lineman for eight years (including 2013, when he was with the Chiefs) had to say:

Sorry, neither of these teams is likely making the Super Bowl.

Last night was so much fun to watch. It was an excellent night for the NFL as a whole. But, these teams aren’t making the Super Bowl.

Like I said above, there has to be some defense to make a run through the playoffs. Even the Eagles, who allowed 33 points to the Patriots, shut down the Falcons and Vikings in the playoffs before winning in Minneapolis. The Patriots shut down the Jaguars last season in the second half of the AFC championship game.

I have no faith either that the Rams or Chiefs defenses can make enough stops when it matters to win their conferences.

Now, he may be wrong there, but if you stop and think about it, a championship game between the New England Patriots (because they are the freaking Patriots, with Bill freaking Belichick and Tom freaking Brady) and the New Orleans Saints (because they have a defense - just ask the Philadelphia Eagles - plus Drew freaking Brees) seems a better bet.

Watching the game, it did at times look like both Sean McVay and Andy Reid had committed to just running the score up. I’m not saying that was the real intent, just that it sure looked like it. No attempt to run the clock by either, save for the next-to-last Rams possession. No trying to keep the ball away from the other team and also give your own defenders, who must have been getting gassed, a chance to catch their breath. Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs in particular seemed to look deep even when he had an easy first down with a shorter throw. There were a phenomenal 30 possessions in the game (counting the final kneeldown), and only one was for more than five minutes, and just one other was more than four. That’s 28 possessions that lasted less than four, with FIFTEEN under two minutes.

Call me foolish, but that does not seem sustainable outside of the Big 12 college conference. And at the end of the game, the risks of putting it all on going full Sexy Rexy seemed to catch up to the Chiefs as Mahomes threw two interceptions inside the last two minutes of the game to kill their comeback attempt.

That’s where Jones’ point has some validity. The Cowboy love to hang on to the ball for long drives. In their win over the Atlanta Falcons, they had drives that burned 7:23 and 7:53 off the clock. When two of your possessions take an entire quarter off the clock, the other team is not going to be able to rack up five or six touchdowns on offense. (Both the Rams and Chiefs also had some defensive scores add to their total.)

Schwartz’s point about poor defenses also seems to make sense. Both the Chiefs and Rams are down in the bottom quarter of just about every defensive stat, although both probably lost a place or two in the MNF game alone. Still, neither is very good at getting off the field - despite the Rams boasting one of the greatest active defensive players in Aaron Donald and a very good DC in Wade Phillips.

Schwartz calls the talk of a Super Bowl preview an overreaction, and he is probably right. And the Cowboys, while they would be underdogs against either of those teams at the moment, still have a real shot with their combination of ball-control offense and top level defense. Matt Ryan may not be quite at the level of Jared Goff and Mahomes, but he is not that far off. He also has a talent loaded receiving corps, just like they do. And the Cowboys kept the Falcons out of the end zone for 58 minutes and eight seconds of game time, and went on to win despite Jason Garrett exhibiting some of the conservative decisions that drive so many to distraction.

As mentioned above, the Saints are probably the most complete team in the NFL, given that they have another remarkably proficient offense and a defense that is at least average. And the Cowboys get to test themselves against them a week after the Thanksgiving game against Washington. It may not go as well as we’d like - but nothing is certain in the NFL.

And that is the thing. Sometimes, a team can get on a run, or a hot streak, and reel off some consecutive wins over opponents that, by most metrics, are better. The New York Giants did just that when they ended the Patriots’ bid for a perfect season. That doesn’t even consider the unpredictable injuries that often change the course of teams.

There is an openly expressed concern by some that a playoff appearance would lead Jones to retain Garrett and Scott Linehan. A playoff win (most likely in the wildcard round) would really make it hard to justify parting ways with Garrett, at least. (I still think Linehan should pay for having set up the early struggles this season, but I may not fully understand how things were decided, which may mitigate his black, damning guilt there. I also may not be fully objective on the topic.)

Yet if you complain about the lack of playoff wins under the Garrett regime, wouldn’t adding at least one be seen as a really positive step? What if the team really surprises and gets to the Conference Championship? (We won’t get all crazy and go beyond that idea. I am not superstitious. But I don’t tempt the Football Fates.) How can you call for the termination of the head coach who got you exactly what you have been demanding?

Well, except for those who only see a Lombardi Trophy as making a season worthwhile, which means that 31 fan bases must be brutally depressed every year.

As someone with red hair and a penchant for clapping once said, “You play to win the game”. That is the point. Win to get to the playoffs, then win as many as you can once you get there. And once you break through to the postseason, who knows what can happen?

The Chiefs and Rams may represent the wave of the future for the NFL, but as Schwartz also observed, you aren’t going to find enough coaches and quarterbacks like they have for every team to follow that path. Other teams, like the Cowboys, have to take a different route. And different routes can succeed.

We’ll see just how much success Dallas can manage as they keep trying.

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